A Coach Approach to Nurturing Altruism

28 01 2013

From the ancient Egyptians, to Abraham Lincoln, the Dalai Lama, and modern day scholars, the power of altruism and altruistic behaviour for both the beneficiary and benefactor has been professed throughout history.  Even beyond historical wisdom, psychological theory and scientific data we can all relate to the feeling we derive from bringing joy to another. It’s real and its poignant!

So how do we strike the balance between selflessness and selfishness in our children and ourselves? It can be challenging to teach our children about asserting themselves and drawing limits to make decisions that are good for them while nurturing their ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  The issue is compounded further when we consider how recent generations and we ourselves are so accustomed to instant gratification.  It’s hard to think of anything – object, service or piece of information that we can’t have with Wi-Fi and a few deft finger strokes on a screen or keyboard.

Simpsons’ fans may recall Bart’s sad albeit funny Thanksgiving prayer which sums up this rather dismal ingrate mindset:


Thankfully, there are schools and other collectives promoting values of gratitude and kindness to raise our children’s altruistic awareness.  My children’s school moto is “Soyons Toujours Respectueux!….des autres, de la propriété et de soi!” (Always be respectful…of others, school property and yourself)  in that order and they live this value everyday.   Introducing children to charitable causes and having open dialogues about local and global needs also helps.  Practicing altruism and appreciation in the family community reinforces how children can serve the greater good in their choices by considering impact on family members and themselves.  So although challenging it is possible to raise the level of social consciousness around altruism by simply recognizing examples of random and even not so random acts of kindness.

Want to use a coach approach to nurturing altruism? Ask your children the following questions and listen beyond the words for the answers:

  • How do you feel when you do something for someone?
  • How can you help make a positive difference?
  • How can you make the biggest difference for the most people?
  • What contribution can you make that would make you feel good?
  • What changes when you help others?  How are you different?
  • What can you do today to open your heart to someone in need?

Not everyone was born to be a social activist  – right Bart??  But even the Simpsons writers and producers would probably agree that a little kindness and gratitude can go a long way, and maybe even come full circle!

Goddesses Confront – Sibling Rivalry Part 1

20 01 2013

The issue was a plastic drinking glass; the situation was breakfast and who would get to use the glass. Right off the bat the exchange was heated, with both girls placing their territorial stakes on the said glass. As each girl became more anchored into her respective “I’m right – you’re wrong” my concern over missing the school bus was steadily increasing. As a result I was quite motivated to end the squabble and regain peace and harmony, ASAP. It did cross my mind to just remove the evil glass from existence forever, which would make me the archenemy in the situation and solicit the wrath of both girls for days to come. My next flawed idea was to bribe the girls with a brand new glass as soon as I could make it to the dollar store.

Once I finally got passed my own habitual filters and paused long enough to take a breath, I managed to give way to what I knew with absolute certainty – these eruptions are never about what’s going on at the surface. So I really started to listen to the dialogue:

• It’s mine!
• You weren’t using it!
• You always take my stuff without asking me!
• You never share!
• Get your own!
• You’re so mean – I can’t believe it!
• Why do you say I’m mean, you always hurt my feelings!

In the midst of the generalizations, and blame I could hear the hurt, anger and fear from both girls. I knew there was an opportunity in this moment to get both girls to recognize what was going on within themselves and each other if I could redirect the attention from the object in question (blue plastic glass) and coach them around the emotions at play.

So with all the patience I could muster, here’s how it went down:

1. I acknowledged the girls’ feelings, and they became more open to listening to me.
2. I asked each of girls in turn to use their own words to share with their sister what they were experiencing.
3. I asked each to paraphrase what they had understood from what their sister had said and gave them each an opportunity to further clarify until they felt that the other “got it”.
4. Once both girls felt heard, I asked each to share what they would propose as a win-win solution using their ideas not mine.
5. Finally, I encouraged them to come up with as many ideas as possible until they were both satisfied.

Sounds like a lengthy process? To be honest it took me longer to get a grip on myself than what it took the girls to come up with some mutually acceptable solutions to their confrontation. We actually made it to the bus on time, I felt good about how the situation unfolded and the glass in question is still used from time to time without any drama! Lesson learned: we are Goddesses in the making!

Limits and Boundaries

11 01 2013

Do you ever feel as though you’re wearing a sign on your back that says “On demand”?

“I need my water bottle”, “Fill in the order form for the hot lunches”, “Did you wash my TaeKwon Do uniform?”  “I don’t understand this question, I need your help”, “I can’t find my library book – it’s due tomorrow”, “Review my evaluations, you need to sign them”, “There’s a message on the computer, I don’t know what it means”  “The TV’s frozen, can you fix it” ….and since when did please and thank-you become optional?  Interestingly, in my house, most of these declarations and demands seem to come when I’m either on the phone, having a conversation with my husband, carrying a load of laundry down the stairs, or in the washroom – sound familiar?

Typically my response to such demands used to be shoulders up, shorten breathe, increase the heart rate and respond within seconds.  I recognize that when it came to my kids, my own limits and boundaries were not well defined, especially when they were younger, and everything seemed so URGENT!!  Yet something inside of me knew that the real urgency would be in rushing Mommy to the ER because the nervous twitch in her eye took over her whole body!

Beyond the adverse physical effects of my chosen behaviour, I wasn’t exactly mirroring to my children how to set their own boundaries or create space for themselves either.  It took a while, but I started to do things a little differently and it’s been a slow but incremental change process.

I started to use hand gestures for time out, taking a few breathes before responding, and articulating my needs and giving timeframes for when I would be ready to take action.  I can see now as the girls are getting older, how critical it is to lead by example and be comfortable drawing the line in the sand for myself, not just at home but in all areas of my life.  Beyond simply recognizing the importance of this concept of establishing limits and boundaries, I behave and choose differently, which allows me to feel more confident and credible especially when I’m supporting my kids in establishing healthy boundaries for themselves.

Notice the conversation you have with your kids when they tell you about the friend who is smothering them all the time and insisting that your child do everything they want to do, when they want to do it and on their terms.  How does your child react when you simply tell him/her “Just say know no” ?

Here are some questions (tried, tested and true) that you may want to ask to heighten the awareness in your child around where their personal boundaries lie, and have them feeling more confident about defining their limits:

  • What makes you feel respected?
  • How do you know when you’ve had enough?
  • What are other options that would make you feel good?
  • When you say yes all the time, what are you also saying no to?
  • What do you really want to say?
  • How can you say it in a way that feels right?
  • Who else can help you?

Defining boundaries and clear limits creates space, space to make one’s own decisions, space to honor one’s feelings, space to allow independence to be nurtured and space for happiness to flourish. Are you drawing the line in the sand?


Inner Voice

7 01 2013

Happy New Year followers, parents, aspiring parents, nurturers, guardians and continuos learners!

With a new year comes new awarenesses.  What I’ve been keenly aware of in the last little while is that there’s an important difference between the mind’s chatter and the inaudible whispers of our true inner voice and that children seem to get this without elaborate explanations!  In my kitchen I have a question posted on a small sticky that asks, “Are you honouring the Godforce?”  It’s been there for a few years and serves as a reminder to pause, take a breathe and  reflect on whether we’re choosing out of habituated response or from the true essence of our unique being. My daughters get this, without extensive words or convoluted explanations they have this pretty much figured out and know that beyond the voices in our heads that tell us we’re too slow…, unable too …, will be critized if… blah, blah, blah, there is the true inner voice that manifests itself as an impulse, intuition, without language and logic attached to it.  It’s that sensation of KNOWING what’s right for you and honouring yourself at each and every fork in the road.

As a parent, and daughter, I have experiences how the words we choose to engage with our children can inadvertently become the source for their mind’s negative chatter or the conduit to connect to the essence of who we/they are.  Through the years it has become increasingly clear to me that the times I’ve felt most connected to my children have been the moments with the least amount of words spoken.  It is in those moments of near silence that we create the space for ourselves and our children to take pause and connect from a different place.

So how do you guide your children to connect and stay connected to their true inner voice?  The voice that prompts:

  •            To trust or not?
  •            To show up or escape?
  •            To surrender or control?
  •            To let be or step in?
  •            To pay attention or ignore?
  •            To love or fear?
  •            To engage or hide?

How able are we to move beyond our own parental filters, haphazard responses, and habituated choices to create the space to allow the true Self to emerge and manifest with each choice?  Let 2013 be a year of discovery and connection for us and for our children!


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